Release Date: Aug 21, 2012
Record label: EMI
After seven years off, these Brits bounce right back on "Every Inch of You," the kickoff to Hot Cakes. Justin Hawkins cheekily tells his backstory: surviving on the dole till Led Zep changed his life, becoming "an Englishman with a very high voice, doing rock & roll." Hot Cakes stays amusing, mixing beer-barrel chuggers with proud schlock ballads. Sneakiest trick: going full-on metal...
If the first chapter of The Darkness' career was book-ended by glittering rise and ignominious disintegration, their return has been a more understated and purposeful affair. Eschewing the bells, whistles and sequinned kitchen sinks of their second album, One Way Ticket, in favour of an approach that shows off their credentials as a first-rate out-and-out rock band, Hot Cakes bulges with infectious melodies, blazing leads and strident riffing, Justin Hawkins' unmistakable falsetto adding pathos and silliness in equal measure. The best songs more than equal their biggest hits: the motoring pick-me-up of Nothing's Gonna Stop Us, feelgood anthem Everybody Have a Good Time and majestic power ballads Living Each Day Blind and Forbidden Love are custom-built for remorseless radio play and may just enable The Darkness to return to the arenas.
It's hard to discuss the 2012 album from satiro-hard rock band the Darkness without taking into account how the disc comes on the heels of much anticipation and hardship. The years after the Darkness released their last album in 2005, the sophomore effort One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back, were rough ones for the usually gleeful ensemble. They had parted ways with bassist Frankie Poullain during the recording process -- a fact that didn't sit well with fans -- and though the album sold well, its recording was delayed and purportedly costly.
It begins, as it must, with a tell-all confessional about the old days (‘Every Inch Of You’), that reminisces about their stratospheric rise (“Seas of sleeveless T-shirts/And queues around the block”), then explodes into life with Justin Hawkins screeching “SUCK MY COOOOOCK!” As it always, always was in Darkness world, self-pity is laced with penis jokes, and soundtracked by the sort of bouncing AC/DC riffs that everyone thinks are ironic these days. Nothing has changed, except the world’s perception of them. Now they are sober, and not in everyone’s face all the time, so we can all take them in the good-natured, fun spirit in which they were always intended.
The first time I heard The Darkness was in late 2003 while driving along a foggy mountain road in northern Spain. The radio was low in the background as I focused to avoid hitting the inordinate number of feral cats dashing across my path. Then I heard “I Believe In a Thing Called Love.” I turned it up, apologized to an unlucky, unnamed cat, and wondered if I had stumbled upon some obscure and long-forgotten metal gem out of 1980.
If grunge was supposed to have killed off hair metal, it did a crap job of it. Nirvana and Pearl Jam somehow begat Creed and Nickelback, who demonstrated how truly boring rock music could get when stripped of glamor, fretboard wizardry, and glass-shattering falsettos. While the Strokes and the White Stripes were instantly deified by music critics for bringing a certain looseness and swagger back to rock'n'roll at the dawn of the 2000s, the Darkness arrived on their coattails embodying what the masses really want from their rock bands: glitz over grit, anthemic joy over disaffected cool, unitards over skinny jeans.
Like fish in a barrel or Ravi Bopara’s Test record, spandex-clad rockers The Darkness are something of an easy target. Still, despite looking a bit silly and not really making proper albums as such, there’s quite a lot to be said in their defence. Their utter defiance of all that is po-faced and refusal to take themselves even remotely seriously is endearing to all but the most hard-bitten cynic, they are - or were - capable of pushing out a stupid, catchy, enjoyable hit (‘Growing on Me’ and ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ were at least good for a crowd sing along), and their debut album Permission to Land was pretty funny back when it came out in 2003.
Oh boy. How exactly do you begin a review with an album that has sleeve art like Hot Cakes? Admittedly, rock is no stranger to lurid, oversexed photography; if you look at any number of releases in between the Cars’ Candy-O and the Darkness’ debut LP Permission to Land, you’re bound to find any number of pictures depicting women in poses so over-the-top you know that only a testosterone-raged male rock musician could have come up with it. For the Darkness, this overt silliness was integral to the success of Permission to Land, without a doubt the only excellent album they’ve put out so far.
Hot Cakes starts off with a dick joke, and not a very funny one at that. After detailing his past decade’s hardships with cocaine and fame, newly returned frontman of The Darkness Justin Hawkins wails about how every man he met during his formative years wanted to suck his cock. These opening lines to “Every Inch of You” are indicative of the content on the rest of the album (their first since 2005’s underrated One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back).
Don Henley, singing drummer in the all-conquering band of the American 70s, the Eagles, once remarked that hell would freeze over before the band reformed. The Eagles had broken up in 1980 in a miasma of chemical excess, mutual enmity and onstage fisticuffs. Fourteen years later they were back on the road on the Hell Freezes Over tour, the public desire for closure and private fancy for lucre having clearly turned Hades into a polar bear safari park.
The Darkness have a habit of taking everyone by surprise. In the early part of the last decade they garnered a massive following thanks to their astonishing live performances, though the music industry's A&Rs (remember them?) wouldn't touch them with a bargepole. Once finally signed, their debut album Permission To Land went quadruple platinum in the UK, and was an emphatic riposte to the cynics.
With a cover that rivals Spinal Tap's Smell the Glove and Shark Sandwich for teenage libidinousness and lack of imagination, the Darkness mark their return after a five year split that saw neither side ? lead singer Justin Hawkins, who bailed back in 2006, nor his three bandmates ? produce anything of lasting value. Seven years after their last album stiffed it's clear from the get go that the band's MO hasn't changed. "Every Inch of You" pairs the group's penchant for '70s rock riffs with a double entendre that would make AC/DC groan, while "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us" is comes across as an excuse to stack the band's vocal harmonies à la Queen as they repeat the chorus ad nauseum.
The Darkness’ comeback album isn’t quite what the doctor ordered. Paul Whitelaw 2012 Having reformed last year following a five-year hiatus, Hot Cakes marks The Darkness’ return to album-releasing ways with more of the knowingly ludicrous, overblown pop-metal that saw their debut, Permission to Land, soar to number one in 2003. But if the novelty had already worn off by the time of their second album in 2005, this comeback effort tests the patience beyond breaking point.